BOSTON – Monday, September 19, 2016 – On Saturday, Mayor Martin J. Walsh kicked-off National Welcoming Week in Boston by celebrating Citizenship Day and signing the Communications Access Ordinance at the James P. Timilty Middle School in Roxbury.
Hundreds of interested applicants were screened for eligibility via telephone leading up to the event, and 350 people began their applications for naturalization with the help of 280 trained volunteers at the event. Due to high demand, an additional clinic will be held on October 27 at WilmerHale to serve eligible applicants who were unable to be served on Citizenship Day.
“Many of Boston’s residents have come to America for a better life and more opportunities,” said Mayor Walsh. “I am committed to ensuring that all of our residents feel included in Boston’s civic life and have full access to everything our city has to offer. For National Welcoming Week, I am proud to sponsor Citizenship Day and sign the Communications Access Ordinance.”
The Communications Access Ordinance, sponsored by Boston City Council President Michelle Wu and Councilor Timothy McCarthy, was passed unanimously by the City Council. The ordinance establishes a citywide structure for access to city services and information for those who are limited English proficient or have communications-related disabilities. To support the new ordinance, Mayor Walsh has invested $200,000 in new funds in the FY 2017 budget to hire a Communications Access Coordinator to guide the development of agency-specific plans and expand translation and interpretation capacity, beginning with Boston 311. The ordinance will consolidate existing efforts by individual City departments to provide language access.
Additionally, the Department of Innovation and Technology has made significant improvements to the City’s website, Boston.gov, to make online resources more accessible for all. Changes to the website’s design and technology has brought the website to AA compliance (based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines). These changes make resources more accessible for users with vision impairments or those who access the website using assistive technology. The City will also be professionally translating content on the website into the five languages most commonly spoken in Boston, including Spanish, Chinese, Haitian Creole and Portuguese. Incorporating human translation will greatly improve access to essential city services and make the City’s digital front door more welcoming for those with limited English proficiency.
“I’m proud to partner with Mayor Walsh, Councilor McCarthy, and all my colleagues on an ordinance that codifies Boston’s commitment to serving all residents and provides resources for residents with limited English proficiency or a communications disability,” said City Council President Michelle Wu. “We are a city that welcomes everyone, and we recognize that empowering residents from all backgrounds is the best way to make Boston stronger.”
“Interacting with the government can be intimidating,” said Felix Arroyo, Chief of Health and Human Services. “We want to make sure that Bostonians have access to accurate information and government services, whether they be for naturalization application assistance at the federal level or for services and programs at the city level.”
At Citizenship Day, the majority of applicants were from Haiti, the country with the third-largest immigrant population in Boston. Applicants came from 43, with ages ranging from 18 to 103.
Among the volunteers were attorneys, law students, undergraduate students and community members from the Boston area. 2014 We Are Boston Community Champion awardee Goodwin provided 60 pro bono attorneys.
“We are proud to partner with Project Citizenship again for the third Citizenship Day in Boston,” said Alejandra St. Guillen, Director of the Mayor’s Office for Immigration Advancement (formerly New Bostonians). “Project Citizenship’s expertise ensured the day’s success.”
“We appreciate Mayor Walsh’s leadership and support on promoting naturalization among eligible lawful permanent residents,” said Veronica Serrato, Executive Director of Project Citizenship. “We look forward to continuing to serve applicants who came to Citizenship Day as they continue the process.”
In April, Mayor Walsh launched Immigrant Information Corners in the Boston Public Libraries as a result of a Letter of Agreement with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to increase awareness and knowledge about citizenship and the naturalization process. The Immigrant Information Corners, which will also have programming on financial empowerment, is made possible through support from AmeriCorps, Boston Cares and Cities for Citizenship.
About National Welcoming Week
National Welcoming Week is an annual series of events, during which communities bring together immigrants and U.S.-born residents in a spirit of unity to raise awareness of the benefits of welcoming everyone – including new Americans. Last year, there were 245 events in over 80 communities during Welcoming Week, with more than 22,000 people participating.
As a Welcoming City within the Welcoming America network, the City of Boston, through the Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Advancement, is committed to proactively welcoming newcomers and ensuring their successful integration.